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Young Lukcs, Old Lukcs, New Lukcs

Author(s): Paul Breines


Source: The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Sep., 1979), pp. 533-546
Published by: University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1876636
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Young Lukacs, Old Lukacs, New Luk'acs


Paul Breines
Boston College

Once upon a time, Georg Lukacs's name and work were known only among
small circles of central European intellectuals-leftist,
literary, and philosophical. Those days have passed. While hardly a household word, Lukacs
now looms large in international discussions of literature, philosophy, and
above all Marxism, even finding his way into recent textbooks in the modem
history of ideas as the progenitor of "Western" or humanistic Marxism.1 An
equally apt sign of the shift in the reception of Lukacs comes from the
publication history of his most famed work, History and Class Consciousness (1923), the livre maudit of twentieth-century Marxism. At the center of
stormy controversy within the Left in the mid-1920s, the book went through
only one printing, in accord with the wishes of its author, who proved
himself a most loyal dissident. Rediscovered by French Marxists following
World War II, the repressed text nevertheless remained literally and figuratively rare, its very inaccessibility enhancing its aura as a real piece of
revolutionary esoterica. So rare was it that until its second authorized
printing in West Germany in 1968, there was, for example, but one known
copy of Historv and Class Consciousness in Yugoslavia.2
The revival of radical social movements in the 1960s had a great deal to
do with the revival of interest in Lukacs, particularly his controversial book,
which is now available in a wide range of languages and editions. As of
spring 1978, though, the story has reached yet another plateau: the hardbound American edition of Histor and Class Consciousness is a publisher's
remainder. But as in the mid-1920s, so now, it is unlikely that a marketing
decision will determine the fate of this singular criticism of the fetishism of
commodities. In any event, since his death in 1971 at the age of eighty-six,
Lukacs has become the subject of a growing body of studies, many of which
have been prompted by recent discoveries of some remarkable unpublished
documents, some hitherto unknown published ones, and the opening of the
'Lukacs Archive" in Budapest. It is an appropriate occasion for an inventory .3
I See the brief reference in Robert Anchor, The Modern Western Experience
(Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1978), p. 206; and the sensible capsule discussion of History
and Class Consciousness in Franklin L. Baumer, Modern European Thought: Continuity and Change in Ideas, 1600-1950 (New York, 1977), pp. 482-83.
2 This is reported in Predrag Vranicki, 'Georg Lukacs: Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein' (review of 1968 edition), Praxis 6, nos. 1-2 (1970): 268-70. Over
Lukacs's objections, a commercial edition of the book was published in French
translation in 1960, and several pirated editions of the German original appeared in
Holland and West Germany throughout the 1960s.
3 Comments on some of the Lukacs studies published between the late 1940s and
the early 1970s appear in the concluding chapter of Andrew Arato and Paul Breines,
The Young Lukdcs and the Origins of Western Marxism (New York, 1979). See also
Russell Jacoby, "Towards a Critique of Automatic Marxism: The Politics of Philoso[Journal ojl Modern HistorY 51 (September 1979): 533-546]
1979 by The University of Chicago. 0022-2801/79/5103-0040$01.23

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Discussions of Lukacs, whose career and massive oeuvre can now be


examined in their entirety, remain dominated by questions of the young
Lukacs. In the simplest sense, this is the phase that extends from his first
major essays in cultural criticism in 1908-9 through his conversion to
Communismin late 1918 and the Marxist writings of the years immediately
following, climaxing with the publicationand debate over History and Class
Consciousness in the mid-1920s.4 Thereafter, as Lukacs himself subsequently contended, he bagan his transition to the genuine materialismand
realism of Marxism-Leninism,leaving behind his "apprenticeshipin Marxism" and his youthful idealist heritage. It is not without significance that
the mid-1920smarkedthe close of the fervent revolutionaryhopes that had
infused the preceding years. While there is a definite shift to a "mature
Lukacs" in this period, the fact is that when it comes to an adequate
periodizationof the man's work, there is no simple sense; anyone dedicated
to locating precise ruptures and turning points is in for some philological
nightmares.Just when one finds real and obvious breaks, for example, in
Lukacs's sudden entrance into the Communist Party of Hungary, one
promptly notices equally deep continuities, such as his abiding preoccupation with Dostoevski and ethics. Similarly,while the 1928political essay, the
phy from Lukacs to the Frankfurt School," Telos 10 (Winter 1971): 119-46; and Paul
Breines, review of G. H. R. Parkinson, ed., Georg Lukdcs: The Man, His Work, and
His Ideas (New York, 1970), and George Lichtheim, Lukdcs (New York, 1970), in
Telos 6 (Fall 1970): 318-24; and of Giuseppe Vacca, Lukdcs 0 Korsch? (Bari, 1969),
Telos 5 (Spring 1970): 215-20.
4 The term 'young Lukacs" is a loose one. A glance at the calendar, for example,
indicates that Lukacs was thirty-eight years old when he published History and Class
Consciousness. Karl Marx wrote the "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts" when
he was twenty-six; the chronologically comparable-and substantively comparableworks in Lukacs's career would be his Developmental History of Modern Drama
(1909) and the book of essays, The Soul and the Forms (1910), the first major works.
The youthful Lukacs in the strict sense is no less an intriguing subject. For chronological sketches see Istvan Meszaros, Lukdcs' Concept of Dialectic (London, 1972), pp.
115-20; and Johanna Rosenberg, "Das Leben Georg L,ukacs'-Eine Chronik,' in
Dialog und Kontroverse mit Georg Lukdcs: Der Methodenstreit deutscher sozialistischer Schriftsteller, ed. Werner Mittenzwei (Leipzig, 1975), pp. 396-99. The first
comprehensive analysis of Lukacs's role in the culturally radical "Thalia Theater"
experiment in Hungary in 1904-5 can be found in Jose Ignacio Lopez Soria, "L'Experience theatrale de Lukacs,' L'Homme et la sociee 43-44 (1977): 117-31. Soria's
essay appears in a special issue of L'Homme et la societe containing previously
unpublished Lukacs material and several essays cited below in this review. Regarding
the youthful Lukacs, it is likely that a psychobiographer already waits in the wings.
Bits of suggestive material are at hand. In an as yet unpublished autobiographical
refers to his
Denken"-Lukacs
sketch written shortly before his death-"Gelebtes
childhood "guerilla struggles" against a repressive mother, the exact expression used
by Mao Tse-tung to characterize his relations with his own father. In a footnote to an
otherwise unpsychological study, Rudi Dutschke proposes that "the Lukacsian pliability, his adaptive capacity, the conscious submissions, the insight into the weaknesses
of 'blind spontaneity' etc. (which are often referred to superficially in Lukacs's later
history as 'opportunism' when in reality they were more often than not sensible
appraisals of the existing possibilities), these characteristics had their first roots in his
childhood struggles" (Rudi Dutschke, Versuch, Lenin auf die Fiisse zu stellen: Uber
den halbasiatischen und den west-europaischen Weg zum Sozialismus. Lenin Lukdcs
und die Dritten Internationale [Berlin, 1974], p. 144n).

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"Blum Theses" (after his party pseudonym), signifies the end of Lukacs's
apprenticeshipand what he called his "messianic sectarianism," it is now
clear, as the following pages will indicate, that the origins of the supposedly
maturerealism can be found alongside the earlier messianism. The point for
the moment is only that periodizationof this dialectician'scareer requiresan
eye for the dialectic of transformationand continuity, of contradictions
within unities.
The young Lukacs, then, has commanded attention for three related
reasons: first because of its crowning product, History and Class Consciousness, which "friends and foes alike admit nowadays was the single
majorevent in the history of Marxismas philosophy since the death of Karl
Marx."' Second, the book imposes the question of its own genesis, the
process of social and intellectualformationthroughwhich Lukacs created so
potent a reconstructionof Marxism. And third, while it must be examined
on its own complex terms, the work of the matureLukacs also comprises an
uninterrupteddialogue and debate with History and Class Consciousness.6
Not surprisingly,the major portion of the recent studies center around the
young Lukacs. Notably, though, they introduce-leaving aside their diverse
standpoints-a new dimensionand importantnew emphases to the pictureof
the young, and thereby the whole, Lukacs.
The new dimension concerns the independent historical significance of
Lukacs's life and work prior to his having become a Marxist. In its outlines,
this was in fact visible decades ago, thanks to the late Lucien Goldmann,
sFerenc Feher, 'Lukacs in Weimar: The Classicism of Georg Lukacs and His
Theory of Realism" (unpublished manuscript, courtesy of the author), p. 1.
6 This is readily apparent in the mature Lukacs's numerous essays in intellectualpolitical autobiography, from "Mein Weg zu Marx" (1933) to the lengthy foreword
(1967) to the 1968 edition of History and Class Consciousness. His 1955 study of the
rise of "irrationalist philosophy" in Germany, Die Zerstorung der Vernunft, is an
implicit yet clear assault on many of the thinkers who had exerted a real influence on
his own early work: among them, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Weber, Simmel, Tonnies,
Bergson, and Sorel. Lukacs, moreover, was in his later years preoccupied not only
with his own 'apprenticeship' but with the generic question of the genesis and
"youth" of dialectical thought in its modem forms. His The Young Hegel: On
Relations between Dialectic and Economics (1948) and The Young Marx: His Philosophical Development, 1840-1844 (1964) attest to this. Lukdcs's last work, Ontologv
of Social Being, only several segments of which have been published in book form, is
equally clearly a final effort to go beyond the problems raised by his 1923 book. See
Hegels falsche und echte Ontologie (1971), Die ontologischen Gundprinzipien von
Marx (1972), and Die Arbeit (1973). For an explanation of these parts of the
'Ontology,' see G. H. R. Parkinson, Georg Lukdcs (Boston, 1977), pp. 145-62.
Parkinson's is the only work among those here under review which surveys the whole
of all of Lukacs's books, leaving out numerous important essays for reasons of
compactness. Written with exceptional clarity, the book will be useful to anyone
interested in brief, serious reports on Lukacs's main works. For a provocative
analysis of Lukacs's "Ontology," see the essay collectively composed by several of
his friends and former students: Ferenc Feher, Agnes Heller, Gyorgy Markus, and
Mihaly Vajda, "Notes on Lukacs's Ontology," Telos 29 (Fall 1976): 160-80. These
notes also contain some deeply moving passages pertaining to Lukacs's last days
alive. They have been published in Italian translation in a recent special issue of the
independent Italin Marxist journal of social theory (aut aut, vols. 157-58 [JanuaryApril 1977]) devoted to "the Late Lukacs and the 'Budapest School' " and containing
helpful essays by Laura Boella and others.

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who in thel940s arguedthat Lukacs's The Soildand the Forms (Germaned.,


1911) and his Theoryof the Novel (originallypublished as an essay in 1916)
established their then-forgottenauthor as one of the major philosophers of
the century, the creator of a "tragic metaphysics," the first flower of
Existentialism.7Now, with the availabilityof a veritable mass of previously
See the 'Preface a la premiere edition," in Lucien Goldmann, Introduction a la
philosophie de Kant (Paris, 1967). The first French edition appeared in 1948 and was
the translation of Goldmann's doctoral dissertation written three years earlier. This
original edition, Mensch, Gemeinschaft und Welt in der Philosophie Immanuel Kants:
Studien zur Geschichte der Dialektik (Zurich, 1945), contains a brief afterword (pp.
241-47), dropped from the French editions, in which Goldmann suggests that Heidegger's Being and Time (1927) not only emerged from the same intellectual milieu as
History and Class Consciousness, namely, from the pre-World War I southwest
German neo-Kantian schools of Heidelberg and Freiburg, but that Heidegger's book
was in important respects a response to Lukacs's, seeking to transpose the latter's
historical concepts of reification, false consciousness, and class consciousness back
into transhistorical attributes of a human essence (Dasein, authenticity, and so forth).
An indefatigable commentator on modem social theory and Lukacs's work in particular, Goldmann pursued this specific theme in the years prior to his death in 1970. His
lectures, published in France in 1973, have now appeared in a faithful but sometimes
stiff translation by William Q. Boelhower, Lukdcs and Heidegger: Towards a New
Philosophy (Boston, 1977). The decision to exclude the instructive introduction to the
in
French edition was unfortunate. See Youssef' Ishaghpour, 'Avant-Propos,'
Lukdcs et Heidegger (Paris, 1973), pp. 5-56. Goldmann's thesis has taken on an
intellectual history of its own. For example, Rainer Rochlitz has recently excavated
the prewar Heidelberg philosophical milieu, particularly the journal, Logas, showing
that Heidegger must have been conversant with Lukacs's early efforts to develop a
philosophical perspective beyond both neo-Kantianism and Lebensphilosophie, a
program close to Heidegger's heart. Rochlitz goes on to amplify what he sees as
confirmation of Goldmann's view of relations between Historv and Class Consciousness and Being and Time, on which Heidegger began work shortly following the
appearance of Lukacs's book. He also indicates, as have others, that in the late 1920s
Herbert Marcuse, deeply influenced by History and Class Consciousness and Heidegger's research assistant, was the first to bring the two perspectives into a unified
existential Marxism (see Rainer Rochlitz, 'Lukacs et Heidegger: Suites d'un debat,'
L'Homme et la societe 43-44 [January-June 1977]: 87-94). What to make of all this?
If the matter cannot be treated substantially here, two recent remarks will be helpful.
First, regarding Goldmann's studies of the young Lukacs, Gyorgy Markus notes that
just as in the early 1920s Lukacs was able, on the basis of the available writing of
Marx, to anticipate the later discovery of the young Marx (with publication in the
early 1930s of the 1844 "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts"), so Lucien
Goldmann was able, on the basis of The Soul and the Forms and Theory of the Novel,
to reconstruct a decisive moment of the young Lukacs's outlook which was fully
confirmed only with the posthumous availability of the 1916-18 manuscript, "The
Philosophy of Art" (see Gyorgy Markus, 'Lukacs' 'erste' Asthetik: Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Philosophie des jungen Lukacs," in Agnes Heller et al., Die
Seele und das Leben: Studien zum fruhen Lukds [Frankfurt am Main, 1977], pp.
235-36n). Second, as to the broader scope of Goldmann's thesis, the following: 'it
loses its arbitrary and surprising character when one realizes that correspondences
exist between a philosophically adequate Marxism on the one hand and the various
forms of overcoming neo-Kantian, phenomenological or other variants of transcendental philosophie on the other, such as those developed by Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty,
pragmatism or German philosophical anthropology" (Hans Joas, "Einleitung," in
Agnes Heller, Das Alltagsleben: Versuch einer Erklarung der individuellen Reproduktion (Frankfurt am Main, 1978), p. 22n.

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unknown material produced by Lukacs before 1918, the import of his


pre-Marxist work has been placed on a new plane. In addition to two
completed manuscriptsin aesthetic philosophy from 1912-14 (the "Philosophy of Art") and 1916-18 (the "Heidelberg Aesthetics") contained in
Lukacs's Nachlass, there are the documents found shortly after his death in
a valise in the basement vaults of a Heidelberg bank. Among the papers it
held are an essay on German intellectuals and World War I, notes for a
book on Dostoevski and another on the history of Germanromanticism,and
some 1,650 letters.8 Lukacs left this material behind when he departed
Heidelbergfor good in 1917, evidently mentioningits existence to no one,
then or later.
So rich a documentaryvein can hardly be reduced to a formula, but the
recent commentarieson it enable one to say that Lukacs emerges from the
decade prior to the Russian Revolution as a figure who passed throughthe
cultural crisis of turn-of-the-centurybourgeois Europe with an intensity of
theoretical reflection and lived experience that defy parallel. If the works of
such cultural historians as H. Stuart Hughes, George L. Mosse, Fritz
Ringer, Arthur Mitzman, Martin Green, Edward Tannenbaum, and others
have established it as a virtual commonplace that between 1890 and 1920
Europe passed througha tumultuoustransformationthat imposed the foundations of contemporaryexperience, namely, permanentcultural crisis, then
it now seems clear that this transformationhas found its representative
figure, the young-pre-Marxist-Lukacs. Since this is a bold claim, it may
be appropriateto avoid qualificationand instead to take it a step furtherby
8 In addition, the Heidelberg valise contained the handwritten diary Lukacs kept
during the prewar years. As the essays by Gyorgy Markus and Agnes Heller
(discussed below) demonstrate, it unveils the painful human experiences that underlay
such of Lukacs's early works as The Soul and the Forms and the 1912 essay "On the
Poverty of the Spirit." Heller, Markus, Ferenc Feh6r, and Sandor Radn6ti, associates
of the now-dispersed "Budapest School" of social theory, have emerged as the major
interpreters of this material. The brilliant results of their labors are collected in the
volume, Agnes Heller et al., Die Seele und das Leben (n. 7 above). It contains
analysis of another of the recent documentary discoveries, the correspondence from
1910 through the late 1920s between Lukacs and Paul Ernst (1866-1933), a member of
the Social Democratic Party of Germany in the early 1890s and, long after he had
departed its ranks, Lukacs's favorite dramatist. The story of relations between the
two men is of the greatest interest in both human and ideological terms. See Ferenc
Feher, "Am Scheideweg des romantischen Antikapitalismus: Typologie und Beitrag
zur deutschen Ideologiegeschichte gelegentlich des Briefwechsels zwischen Paul Ernst
und Georg Lukacs" (in Die Seele und das Leben, pp. 241-27), which presents Ernst
and Lukacs as kindred spirits of "romantic anticapitalism" who, at the crossroads
drawn by the Great War, moved, respectively, to the Right and to the Left. The
letters from the Heidelberg valise combined with extensive material from Ernst's
Nachlass have recently been published in Karl August Kutzbach, ed., Paul Ernst und
Georg Lukdcs: Dokumente einer Freundschaft (Emsdetten, 1974) (hereafter cited as
Dokumente einer Freundschaft). Along with Feher's incomparable study, see the
lively work of Norbert Fuerst, Ideologie und Literatur: Zum Dialog zwischen Paul
Ernst und Georg Lukdcs (Emsdetten, 1976). This book, which appears to have been
conceived before the Lukacs-Ernst correspondence became available, takes account
of it in the latter chapters but concentrates on the comparison between the published
books and essays through the 1920s. Fuerst's discussion survives his persistent but
infelicitous claim that Ernst's understanding of modern society and Marxism was
superior to that of his younger friend.

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stressing that following the Russian Revolution, the Marxist Lukacs would
come to stand as the representative intellectual figure of the permanent crisis
of Marxism.9
The representative character of Lukacs's early work lies first of all in its
typical features as an expression of "neo-romantic anti-capitalism,' a term
coined by Lukacs himself and recently developed further by Ferenc Feh6r
and Michael Ldwy.10 Combining his own original perceptions with those of
Georg Simmel, Ferdinand Tonnies, and, to a lesser degree, Max Weber,
Lukacs elaborated a sustained bourgeois critique of the bourgeois world, a
world shaped, as he saw it, by the inexorable drive of "thingification"
(Versachlichung), resulting in the demolition of Kultur by Zivilization, the
separation of culture from life, and the imposition of an anguishing interiority (Verinnerlichung) upon individuals of real sensibility. Against this alienated world and its philosophical reflections, positivism and mechanical
materialism, Lukacs upheld a vision of a new Gemeinschaft, an integral
world in which the soul and its forms are no longer rent assunder.
If in its broad contours Lukacs's pre-1918 views were part-a constitutive
part-of the neoromantic, anticapitalist intelligentsia of the day, they
achieved their singularity and their truly representative form in the
radicalism and totality of his rejection of reality."' As a social theorist (who
was less unfamiliar with the Marxian theory than many still believe), the
early Lukacs shared with, for example, Simmel and Weber, a belief in the
"cosmic insurmountability of the alienated world.' 12 Yet, in contrast to
9 Goldmann, Lukdcs and Heidegger, p. 3.
10 See, Ferenc Feher, 'Am Scheideweg des romantischen Antikapitalismus,' and
Michael Lowy, Pour une Sociologie des intellectuels reivolutionnaires: L'Ev'olution
politique de Lukdcs, 1909-1929 (Paris, 1976), pp. 17-105. An English translation of
Lowy's important book is forthcoming from New Left Books.
1I See Michael Lowy, "Introduction," in the special Lukacs issue of L'Homme et
la socete (n. 4 above), p. 4.
12 See, for example, the superficial and erroneous comments on Lukacs's early
relation to Marxism in Werner Mittenzwei, "Gesichtspunkte: Zur Entwicklung der
literaturtheoretischen Position Georg Lukacs'," in Dialog und Kontroverse mit Georg
Lukdcs (n. 4 above), pp. 11-12. With the exception of Mittenzwei's historical sketch,
this volume of essays by East German commentators deals with the literary debates in
which Lukacs was engaged within the Communist movement during the 1930s and
1940s. While somewhat more balanced and substantial than earlier comparable discussions of Lukacs, these essays remained marred by a certain obligatory dogmatism.
Regarding Lukacs's early relation to Marxism, the fact is that he brought, via Simmel
and Tonnies, an essentially Marxist sociology of culture (shorn of its theory of
revolution) into complex, often tortuous contact with his ethical-aesthetic revolt
against the bourgeois world. This is clear from Lukacs's Hungarian work of 1911,
Developmental History of Modern Drama (not yet translated into any Western
language), the long introduction to which Lukacs translated and published as "Zur
Soziologie des modernen Dramas" (Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik
38, no. 2 [March 1914]: 303-45; 662-706). Thus, next to Lucien Goldmann's thesis
regarding the early Lukacs as fount of Existentialism must be placed Ferenc Feher's
ingenious assertion that in spite of the early Lukacs's politically disengaged position
and his rejection of Social Democracy and its "orthodox" Marxism, his historicalsociological study of the drama "is at root the greatest work of cultural history in the
epoch of the Second International" (Ferenc Feher, "Die Geschichtsphilosophie des
dramas, die Metaphysik der Tragodie und die Utopie des untragischen Dramas.
Scheidewege der Dramentheorie des jungen Lukacs," in Die Seele und das Leben, p.
14).

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539

them and other kindred spirits, Lukacs rejected resignation in the face of
this world, against whose walls he continuously bashed his ethical and
aesthetic imperatives of the need for redemptive community. As he later
said of his friend from this early period, the great Hungarianpoet, Endre
Ady, Lukacs himself was a "revolutionarywithout a revolution." What is
astonishing in this phase of his career is not only his unrelinquishedquest
for alternatives to the bourgeois world, but his readiness to criticize each
of the alternatives he posits, a virtually breathtakingintellectual process
which comes to a close only with Lukacs's "wager" on Communism.
The impassioned search for transcendenceof the "age of complete sinfulness" (a phrase he borrowedfrom Fichte) took Lukacs from hope in certain
peak aesthetic experiences and expectation of redemption by miracle to
serious contemplation of suicide, the last coming in 1911 following the
sudden death of his closest friend, Leo Popper, and the suicide of his
beloved Irma Seidler."3 Equally revealing is Lukacs's early relation to
socialism. From the opening years of the century, he was a convinced
socialist, but of an unusualand independentstripe. By the pre-World War I
years, he spoke of his yearning for a cataclysmic overturning of the
bourgeois world by the "new barbarians' from the lower depths, though Fe
despaired over its remoteness and doubted its capacity to generate a new
culture.'4 As to both Hungarianand German social democracy, Lukacs saw
them as hopelessly sunk in a quagmire of bourgeois politics and thought
(positivism). "It appears," he wrote in 1912, "that socialism lacks that
religious power capable of filling the whole soul, that power present in
primitive Christianity."'l5
In this connection, one of the most intriguingaspects of the early Lukacs
is his preoccupation with Dostoevski and the "Russian idea." a theme
which played a vital role among the associates (Lukacs, Ernst Bloch, Karl
Jaspers, some Russian emigre anarchists and mystics, and others) in the
Max Weber seminar in Heidelberg between 1912 and 1914.16 For Lukacs,
13 Sensitive
analyses of the relations between these painful experiences and
Lukacs's thought can be found in several of Agnes Heller's essays, which center
around two of Lukacs's own essays from the prewar years, 'On the Poverty of the
Spirit" (1912) (an English translation of this appears in Philosophical Forum 3, nos.
3-4 [Spring-Summer 1972]: 371-85; this special issue of the journal is devoted to
material by and on Lukacs), and the essay on Kierkegaard and Regine Olsen in The
Soul and the Forms. The Heller essays are "Von der Armut am Geiste: A Dialogue
by the Young Lukacs,' Philosophical Forum 3, nos. 3-4 (Spring-Summer 1972):
360-70; and, more recently, "Das Zerschellen des Lebens an der Form: Gyorgy
Lukacs und Irma Seidler,' in Die Seele und das Leben, pp. 54-98. The latter essay
makes use of the recently discovered diary in which Lukacs recorded his suicidal
thoughts. The diary, Gyorgy Markus suggests, makes it possible to see all the essays
in The Soul and the Forms as "quite literally a transposition of lived experiences into
a world-view, the philosophical 'history' (via numerous mediations) of Lukacs's
relationship with Irma Seidler" (Gyorgy Markus, "Lukacs' 'erste' Asthetik,' p. 194).
14 Georg Lukaks, "Aesthetic
Culture" (1910; not yet translated from the Hungarian), cited in Feher, "Das Bundnis von Georg Lukacs und Bela Balazs bis zur
ungarischen Revolution von 1918,' in Die Seele und das Leben, pp. 140, 141.
'5 Ibid., p. 140.
16 Illuminating discussions
of Dostoevski, the "Russian idea," and the Heidelberg
Circle are in Arthur Mitzman, The Iron Cage: An Historical Interpretation of Max
Weber (New York, 1970), pp. 253-96; and Paul Honigsheim's essay on the "WeberKreis,' in his On Max Weber, trans. Joan Rytina (New York, 1968). A detailed

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Dostoevski and subsequent currents of Russian mysticism and terrorism


foreshadowed a new ethics and ultimately a new world, a world beyond
externally imposed rules in which life is shaped by "imperatives of the
soul."'I7 Here, as Ferenc Feher suggusts, lie three decisive aspects of the

young Lukacs. First, in his view of Dostoevski and the "Russian idea," one
sees how the life of the revolutionary without revolution generates the
yearningfor a mythology of revolution. Second, one can also glimpse in this
theme an anticipation of the Marxian mythology of proletarian revolution
which would emerge as one (not insignificant)moment in History and Class
Consciousness. Third, Feh6r stresses that the early Dostoevski motif in
Lukacs is also the root of one of his most importantand least appreciated
contributionsto Marxism:the effort to generate a democratic-communitarian
ethics of socialist revolution.'8
In the years immediatelyfollowing his conversion to Communism,Lukacs
not only did not forsake his earlier devotion to Dostoevski, but made it a
central element of his new Marxism.'9Thanks to Michael Lowy's research,
it is now possible to see Lukacs's Dostoevski interpretationin flux from the
early enthusiasm to the subsequently more political and sociological rejecanalysis of Lukacs's early reception of Dostoevski, based upon the newly discovered
notes for a planned book on the Russian novelist, is in Ferenc Feher, "Am
Scheideweg des romantischen Antikapitalismus," pp. 275, 276. Feher's essay contains
Lukacs's two outlines for the planned book, pp. 323-24. Feher's own book-length
manuscript, "Dostoyevsky and the Crisis of the Individual," awaits translation into
English. The early Lukacs-Dostoevski relationship has also recently been treated by
an American commentator, Zoltan Feher, "Lukacs and Dostoyevsky' (Ph.D. diss.,
UCLA, 1977).
17 A vital expression of Lukacs's view here can be found in his 1912 essay, "On the
Poverty of the Spirit" (n. 13 above). One of Lukacs's ties to the "Russian idea" in
these years came through the person of his first wife, Ilyena Andreyevna Grabenko,
to whom The Theory of the Novel is dedicated. Further documentation is now
available in Lukacs's correspondence with Paul Ernst. In 1915 the two exchanged
thoughts on the novels of Boris Savinkov (who wrote under the psuedonym, Ropshin), a key figure in the Terrorist Brigade of the Russian Social Revolutionary Party,
instrumental in the executions of von Phleve and Grand Duke Sergius. Lukacs spoke
of his intention to write on the ethical problem of terrorism, specifically the psychology of Russian terrorism in connection with Dostoevski. He considered Savinkov's
books "not pathological expressions but a new form of the old conflict between a 1st
ethic (obligations with respect to forms) and a 2nd ethic (imperatives of the soul)." In
the terrorist's readiness for self-sacrifice, Lukacs found not a vindication of acts of
terrorism-in which he never believed-but the ethical element of a possible end to
socially imposed suffering (see Dokumente einer Freundschaft, pp. 64-76).
18 Feher, "Am Scheideweg des romantischen Antikapitalismus,"
pp. 302-20.
19
See, for example, Lukacs's 1919 essay, "Tactics and Ethics," in Tactics and
Ethics: Political Essays, 1919-1929, ed. Rodney Livingstone, trans. Michael McColgan (New York, 1975), pp. 3-11. The notion that in the early 1920s Lukacs
propounded a theoretical justification of terror and crime in the service of revolution
does not seem well founded. This notion, originally expressed by Ilona Duzcinska in
1921-Duzcinska, the widow of Karl Polanyi, had been close to Lukacs's group in the
Communist Party of Hungary-was later given some currency by Franz Borkenau
(World Communism: A History of the Communist International [Ann Arbor, Mich.,
1962], pp. 171, 172). The Duzcinska-Borkenau view is substantiated neither by
documentary evidence from the early 1920s nor by the recollection of Lukacs's views
on ethics and revolution in Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, 1901-1941,
trans. Peter Sedgwick (London, 1963), pp. 185, 186.

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541

tion of the Russian novelist as a spokesman of reaction. In a 1922review for


the German Communist paper, Die Rote Fahne, of the publication of
"Stavrogin'sConfession" (the chapter deleted from previous editions of The
Possessed), Lukacs comments in a manner that may serve as a capsule
evaluation of his own pre-Marxist work. Speaking of the "superfluous
man," Lukacs writes that
here is that type from the Russian intelligentsiawho possesses powers and capacities
(which in Stavroginreach the level of demonic genius), but is incapableof makinguse
of them in the Russian reality.... Here the chasm of despair opens, the view of the
absurdity of life which so rapidly transformed the most sincere segment of the
potentially revolutionary Russian intelligentsia. And we can see how these men,
shaken, having sincerely searched for a purpose to their lives, have no other recourse
than suicide, decay, or revolution (with Stavrogin choosing the first route). With
whatever passion Dostoyevsky, the pamphleteer,fought the idea of revolution, with
whatever conviction he preached a religious solution to the world's suffering, it is
nevertheless this man who convinces us most clearly of the revolution's necessity.
His (political) condemnation of the revolution suddenly transforms itself into the
literary glorificationof its absolute spiritual necessity.20

These dramatic lines point to an interesting state of affairs. The early


Lukacs, representativefigure of the crisis of turn-of-the-centurybourgeois
culture, found a resolution to it in his leap of (Communist)faith in 1918, a
decision to which he remained true until his death. Yet, if the historical
significanceof the early phase of his career may now be clear, it should be
said that the new focus on the pre-MarxistLukacs is not only a response to
newly available documentarymaterial. It is also, perhaps even primarily,a
phenomenon of contemporary political-culturalhistory: another manifestation of the situation of revolutionaries without a revolution. From the
mid-1950sthroughthe 1960s studies of the young Lukacs reflected a definite
political enthusiasmand hope. Reworkingthe prehistoryof Lukacs's turn to
a new Marxism seemed, in connection with an emergent "New Left," an
integralpart of this buddingsocial movement. Today, with the dissolution of
the new radical movements-West and East-of the previous decade, focus
on the early Lukacs, for all its impressive results both as cultural history
and as a contribution to humanistic Marxism, is tinged with despair. That
20 Lowy discovered twenty short essays
Lukacs wrote on cultural and literary
matters in 1922. Though published in Die Rote Fahne, they had previously escaped
notice by Lukacs commentators and bibliographers. What lends special interest to
these articles is the fact that they were written in the year Lukacs composed his essay
on "Reification," the theoretical center of History and Class Consciousness. They
reveal his preliminary efforts to develop a Marxian theory of culture and through it an
appeal to the cultural intellectuals to link themselves to the revolutionary cause. The
essays deal with a wide range of themes: Balzac, Goethe, Lessing, Strindberg,
Dilthey, Shaw, Karl Kraus, Dostoevski, and so forth. They also include one of
Lukacs's few statements on Freud, a review of the psychoanalyst's Massenpsychologie und Ich-Alalyse (1921), which, as Lowy's solid introduction indicates,
displays something of Lukacs's lifelong blind spot regarding empirical psychology (see
Michael Lowy, ed., Gyorgy Luka'cs, Litterature, philosophie, marxisme, 1922-1923
[Paris, 1978]; the passage from Lukacs's remarks on Stavrogin's confession appears
on pp. 75-76). Some fifteen of the essays also appear in Jorg Kammler and Frank
Benseler, eds., Georg Lukdcs, Organization und Illusion: Politische Aufsitze III
(Neuwied, 1977).

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this may lend such studies a certain glow of their own as documentationof
contemporaryMarxists in trouble-is only small consolation.21
Significantly,this mood finds no expression in several recent studies from
West Germany which center largely around Lukacs's Marxism in the
1920s-that is, around the Marxism of the young Lukacs.22 Nevertheless,
these new works, too, yield substantial results. Building upon the many
previously undiscussed political essays Lukacs wrote in Hungarianin the
early 1920s during his party's Viennese exile, as well as the more readily
available German-languagearticles from the period, Rudi Dutschke and Jorg
Kammler succeed in displaying the way in which Lukacs developed his
theoretical Marxismin close connection with the day-to-day factional struggles within the central European Cummunistmovement.23While it remains
21 It should be said that virtually without exception the recent studies of Lukacs
under review here, as well as the reviewer, come from the Left. The associates of the
"Budapest School" whose writings have been mentioned in these pages-Feher,
Heller, Vajda, and Markus-recently emigrated, perhaps permanently. Radn6ti remains at work in Budapest. Despair, however, by no means monopolizes their
outlook. See, for example, two recent political writings: Ferenc Feher, "The Dictatorship over Needs," Telos 35 (Spring 1978): 31-42; and Mihaly Vajda, "Law,
Ethics and Interest," Telos 34 (Winter 1977-78): 173-79. A valuable introduction to
their work is Jeffrey Herf's review of A. Hegedus et al., The Humanization of
Socialism (New York, 1976), in Telos 35 (Spring 1978): 238-43. In connection with
the related themes of hope and despair on the one side, and both internal and external
exile on the other, it is not without interest that in their studies of Lukacs recent
commentators have paid close attention to his fascinating and complex relations to the
late Ernst Bloch. Again, this is not only a product of the facts of the past, but at least
in part because during his own post-1933 emigration, Ernst Bloch sat alone in
Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, working on
his massive study, The Principle of Hope. Regarding relations between Bloch and the
young Lukacs, see Feher, "Am Scheideweg des romantischen Antikapitalismus,' pp.
256-90. An English translation of part of this section of Feher's essay appears as
"The Last Phase of Romantic Anti-Capitalism: Lukacs's Response to the War," New
German Critique 10 (Winter 1977): 139-54; and Sandor Radn6ti, "Bloch und Lukacs:
Zwei radikale Kritiker in der 'gottverlassenen Welt',- in Die Seele und das Leben,
pp. 177-91. An English translation appears in Telos 25 (Fall 1975): 155-64.
22 Perhaps this is due to the unflinching historical rationalism typical of so much of
Germanic Marxism. See Ursula Apitzsch, Gesellschaftstheorie und Asthetik bei Georg
Lukdcs bis 1933 (Frommann-Holzboog, 1977); Dutschke, Versuch, Lenin auf die
Fusse zu Stellen (n. 4 above); and Jorg Kammler, Politische Theorie von Georg
Lukdcs: Struktur und Praxisbezug bis 1929 (Neuwied, 1974).
23 A good portion of the Hungarian articles has now been published in German in
three new volumes of Lukacs's political writings from the 1920s. The volumes contain
many of Lukacs's German-language articles, not a few of which have been reprinted
previously in anthologies released by the same publisher, which cannot exactly be
termed a consumer-oriented technique. See Georg Lukacs: Taktik und Ethik.
Politische Aufsdtze I (Neuwied, 1975), Revolution und Gegenrevolution. Politische
Aufsadtze II (Neuwied, 1976), and Organization und Illusion. Politische Aufsdtze III
(Neuwied, 1977). The editors of the volumes, Jorg Kammler and Frank Benseler,
have been active commentators on Lukacs. The recent books by Kammler and
Dutschke, even as they shed a common light on the overall development of Lukacs's
Marxism in the early 1920s, differ in important respects. Kammler traces Lukacs's
political evolution from the beginning through 1929. His solidly informative study is
finally critical of Lukacs's early Marxism for having been focused not on the relations
of capital, but on the reification of thought (science, mathematics, and so on).

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543

true that the heart of this process consisted of Lukacs's preoccupationwith


Dostoevski, Hegel, and now Marx, it is no longer possible to claim, as
George Lichtheim did, that in the early 1920s Lukacs was only a moral
philosopher who, by a quirk of fate, had donned a Marxist cloak.24 The
young Lukacs of this period now emerges as the figure he actually was: a
fully engaged Communist militant fixated on ethical questions of militant
Communism.25

RegardingLukacs, the Communist politician, it has long been clear that


he was a leading spokesperson in the early 1920s of the "ultra-Left"current
denounced by Lenin in his pamphlet, Left-Wing Coinmunism:An Infantile
Disorder (1921). While amplifyingthis vital aspect of Lukacs's initial Marxism, Dutschke and Kammler also illuminate the degree to which this
"'messianicsectarian" was very much the realist when it came to questions
of strategy for the Communist Party of Hungary. A major figure in the
party's faction grouped around Eugen Landler which opposed the leadership
circle around Bela Kun, the favorite of the Soviet leaders of the Third
International,Lukacs consistently criticized Kun's insistence on the primacy
of illegal organization, advocating instead the need for '"mass work,"
including alliances with the trade unions and Social Democrats. In retrospect, the whole issue can be seen to have been somewhat moot, as it
concerned a defeated and exiled party with little real promise of a returnto
Hungaryfrom its beleagueredoutpost in Vienna.26Nonetheless, the young
Lukacs's "right-wing"position on questions involving Hungaryin the early
1920s is obviously the political root of his 1928 "Blum Theses" mentioned
earlier.

Lukacs's opposition to the Kun faction was, moreover, linked to two


central features of his political perspective in the early 1920s: first, his
Dutschke's passionate volume, as its lengthy subtitle suggests, tries to decipher what
the author considers the secret of the post-World War I revolutions in Europe and
Russia: namely, the "half-Asiatic' character of Russia and, as a result, of its hybrid
revolution. While Lukacs is presented as the main theorist of the potential West
European revolution, Dutschke argues that neither he nor Lenin grasped the peculiar
character of the Soviet revolution. Both erred in "Europeanizing" the Russian model.
Though I disagree with many particulars in Dutschke's account, its thesis is important
and sound enough.
24 George Lichtheim, Lukdics (New
York, 1970), esp. pp. 67, 68.
25 The relation between ethics and politics in Lukacs in the early 1920s is treated
especially well in Lowy, Pour une sociologie des intellectuels revolutionnaires, pp.
171-96. Perhaps the most remarkable document in this connection is Lukacs's essay,
"Bolshevism as a Moral Problem," published on the eve of his entrance into the
Communist Party of Hungary. It remains the most brilliant capsule analysis of
Marxism and Bolshevism ever written. A rejection of Bolshevism and an endorsement
of Social Democracy on ethical grounds-a decision Lukacs would reverse overnight
while retaining the identical ethical standpoint-the little essay, only recently available
in German, is now in print in English translation (see Judith Marcus Tar, trans.,
"Bolshevism as a Moral Problem," Social Research 44, no. 3 [Autumn 1977]:
416-24). To her translation, Tar has added a very helpful introduction.
26 A most informative account of Lukacs in his Viennese
exile is Yvon Bourdet,
"Georg Lukacs in Wiener Exil, 1919-1930," in Geschichte und Gesellschaft:
Festschrift fur Karl R. Stadler zum 60. Geburtstag (Vienna, 1974), pp. 297-329.
Bourdet argues that in the course of the 1920s Lukacs, without direct ties, drew
politically close to "Austro-Marxism" (see Apitzsch [n. 22 above], pp. 23-28;
104-12).

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critique of the spread of bureaucracy and dogmatism within the Third


International; and second, his warnings against Soviet Russian domination of
the International's European sections. As Dutschke rightly notes, Lukacs in
1920 was calling for what amounted to "polycentrism": in Lukacs's own
words, "a decentralized construction of the Third International as a necesThe specific
sary requirement of the present stage of the movement.'27
organ of this current of thought, the Vienna-based journal, Kommunismus,
on whose editorial board Lukacs sat, was ordered to cease publication late
in 1921 by Zinoviev. With this and similar actions by the executive of the
International, the embryo of a Eurocommunism was placed in cold storage.
If Lukacs was perhaps the most perceptive Communist analyst of the
crisis of Communism in Europe in the early 1920s, the fact is that the story
of his career in this period consists also of his progressive reconciliation
with the realities that conflicted so sharply with his initial vision and hopes.
The neoromantic radical was slowly transforming himself into a neoHegelian realist, eschewing the fate of such contemporaries as Karl Korsch
and Leon Trotsky who, continuing to insist on what Lukacs had called the
"absolute spiritual necessity" of the revolution, found themselves in isolation.28 By 1926-27, Lukacs had made his strange peace with emergent
Stalinism, becoming its most faithful apostate and most critical apostle,
miraculously surviving its ravages.29
The crisis of Communism in the early 1920s, and of Lukacs's career
within it, found its theoretical crystallization in Historv and Class Consciousness, the manifesto of a humanist Marxism without a social movement. Criticisms of the book, plentiful in the mid-1920s, have proliferated in
recent years. While even a sketch of the debate would require a separate
27 Dutschke, Versuch, Lenin auf die Fusse zu Stellen, p. 225. Lukacs's remark
comes from his 1920 essay, "Organizationsfragen der 3. Internationale."
28 As Laura Boella shows in her new study of the young Lukacs, History and Class
Consciousness itself was at once a defense and a subterranean criticism of Bolshevism, while Lukacs's 1924 booklet, Lenin, even as it explicitly warned against the
emergent canonization of the Bolshevik leader and the rise of a "vulgar Leninism"
(Lukacs's term), marked its author's gradual acceptance of the state of affairs he
clearly found repugnant (see Laura Boella, II Giovane Lukdcs: La formazione intellettuale e la filosofia politica, 1907-1929 [Bari, 1977], pp. 161, 162, 227, 228).
29 For a sketch of this whole theme, see Michael L6wy, "Lukacs and Stalinism,"
New Left Review 91 (May-June 1975): 25-41. Among the material in the "Lukacs
Archive" in Budapest, Lowy discovered a several-page, handwritten autobiographical
statement Lukacs wrote for the Soviet police upon his arrest in the spring of 1941.
The most interesting aspect of this little document is that it contains no mention of
what Lukacs, before and after this episode, had stressed as the major reason for his
decision to remain a Communist, namely, to be able to participate fully in the struggle
against Fascism. The document was produced during the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and
Lukacs had been arrested on charges of having been a "Trotskyite agent" during the
1920s. He spent some weeks, perhaps longer, in prison (see "Autobiographie inedite," in L6wy, Litterature, philosophie, marxisme, pp. 147-53). As to the activities
of the "Trotskyite agent," the recollection of Victor Serge is apposite: "I was to meet
Georg Lukacs and his wife later, in 1928 or 1929, in a Moscow street. He was then
working at the Marx-Engels Institute; his books were being suppressed, and he lived
bravely in the general fear. Although he was fairly well-disposed towards me, he did
not care to shake my hand in a public place, since I was expelled and a known
Oppositionist. He enjoyed a physical survival, and wrote short, spiritless articles in
Comintern journals" (Serge [n. 19 above], p. 188).

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545

work, several issues may nevertheless be noted here. First, there is an


intriguingsimilarity between the critiques by Marxist-Leninistson the one
hand, and those by anticommunistcommentators on the other. The initial
denunciations of the book by such official ideologues of the Communist
International as Abram Deborin and Lazslo Rudas, for example, bear
striking parallels to that presented in 1926 by the then Social Democrat,
Hendrikde Man, who wrote with implicit but clear reference to Lukacs that
"the inferioritycomplex of intellectuals is found in sharpest form among the
radical Marxists of bourgeois origin. With them, the idealization of the
proletariat reaches its most extreme expression. The masses become a
mystical substance with immanentqualities that one never finds in flesh and
blood proletarians.In the 'revolutionarymission,' the 'burdenof the oppressed' is forgotten. . . The worst dogmatists of 'proletariansocialism' of the
strictest Marxist sort have always been academics. The greater their distance from the real proletariat,the more easily they viewed it as a piece of
the chess-board of their theoretical, revolutionary-dialectical combinations.''30 This is a virtual replica of Zinoviev's assault on "Professor
Lukacs' at the Fifth World Congress of the Communist Internationalin
1924.
The second thing to be said is that there is more than a grain of truth to
these criticisms, one which sympathetic critics of the young Lukacs have
developed in different directions. The truth in question is that History and
Class Consciousness, and, in fact, Lukacs's Marxismas a whole, rest upon
an hypostatization of the intellect. As Cesare Cases recently remarked,
man' in Lukacs's thought is "a generalized intellectual.''31 This hyperintellectualism may account for Lukacs's unflaggingrejection of psychology,
which in turn, as Russell Jacoby suggests, propelled Lukacs toward a myth
of the revolutionaryparty.32A critical psychology might have enabled him
to glimpse importantlines of mediation between the "empirical consciousness" of the proletariat and its supposedly true "class consciousness."
Lacking this, Lukacs glorified the party as the unfettered repository of the
consciousness the proletariat itself had not achieved.
Yet, with an irony typical of virtuallyeverythingconnected to Lukacs, his
own work, above all History and Class Consciousness, provides a potential
resolution to its own decisive problem. For the book points directly toward
what its authordid not and could not have developed: a critique of everyday
30 Hendrik de Man, Die Intellektuellen und der Sozialismus (Jena, 1926), pp. 19-20.
The similarities between Stalinist and, in particular, Social Democratic criticisms of
Lukacs in the 1920s was pointed out at the close of the decade by the German
theorist, Kark Korsch, who had represented views parallel to those in History and
Class Consciousness (see Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy [1923], trans. Fred
Halliday [New York, 1970], pp. 100, 101). For a present-day instance, the following
works can be compared: Lucio Colletti, "From Bergson to Lukdcs," in Marxism
and Hegel, trans. Lawrence Gamer (London, 1973), pp. 157-98; and Neil McInnes,
"Lukacs: The Restoration of Idealism," The Western Marxists (New York, 1972), pp.
105-29.
31 Cesare Cases, "Einleitung," in Lehrstuck Lukdcs, ed. Jutta Matzner (Frankfurt
am Main, 1974), p. 38.
32 See Jacoby's perceptive discussion of Lukacs and psychoanalysis in his Social
Amnesia: A Critique of Contemporary Psychology from Adler to Laing (Boston,
1975), pp. 73-77.

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life. Not surprisingly, such an approach has been recently elaborated by


Lukacs's former research assistant, Agnes Heller, whose labors entail an
extension of History and Class Consciousness, but one that is based on a
sharp critique. From the theory of everyday life, it follows that
absolute alienationdoes not exist. The indissolubilityof the developmentof individual
identity insures that the reificationand oppression of subjectivity can be deforming
forces, but can never be totalized into a hermetic continuumof repression. Precisely
the belief in this latter prospect was one of the essential errors of the political and
historical-philosophicalconstructionof History and Class Consciousness. The source
of Lukacs'sjustificationof the Leninist party lay in his image of a total dissolutionof
proletarian subjectivity which, linked to the idea of a single, unified "collective
subject," could be transformedin a flash into the realizationof a total subjectivity.33
The least one can say is that the Lukacs debate continues, now midway
through its sixth decade. This is no meager tribute to the late philosopher.
Nor is the fact that so many of the recent studies of his work are not only
substantial contributions to historical scholarship, but participants in the
effort to humanize this desperately needy age.
33 These are not Heller's words but those of Hans Joas (n. 7 above), p. 14. Parallel
critical studies of everyday life developed in France by Henri Lefebvre and the
Situationist International also derive from History and Class Consciousness.

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